How Productivity Training Is Being Done Poorly – A Pair of Articles

In a pair of posts on HBR, Maura Thomas discusses problems with training on time management and personal productivity. She finds that training people only to prioritize incoming tasks results in scattered attention and, overall, lower productivity. Instead, she advocates training for attention management. I agree, based on my experiences with clients, and sincerely hope this sounds familiar to those of you who consistently read my blog.

She finds here that productivity skills training should, but doesn’t normally, center around three components:

  1. Clarifying role-level priorities rather than task-level priorities (look for an upcoming blog post on roles vs. tasks)
  2. Training for attention management instead of “time” management
  3. Implementing a comprehensive workflow management system (and here)

She also notes here that, when adopting a new productivity system, people often start well, but fail to change their habits in the long term. She finds three underlying causes of this failure:

  1. Her clients are convinced that some old habits are necessary, despite the overall inefficiency of the old system. New habits, like single-tasking vs. multitasking, are logical and make sense, but our old habits and beliefs are hard to change.
  2. The local environment doesn’t support the necessary changes. We resist making the environmental changes necessary to support the new habit, primarily because we don’t understand the power of the environment on our behaviors. (Note: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is helpful to address this and the previous bullet.)
  3. They overthink the new system, making it too complex. Since the system is too complex and difficult, they revert to old (easier) habits under stress.

The core idea is that changing habits and workflow systems is hard work. We have to use our best tactics: small, incremental changes over time, remembering to make time for the overhead of using the new habit/system, and patience with ourselves when we mess up and fall back to the old system. David Allen says that it takes at least two months of diligent effort to achieve the “clarity” that results from application of GTD.

So, we have two issues:

We need to focus on the right things – roles and attention. I hope you see that focus in my posts.

We need perseverance and accountability for developing our new habits. The best way to do that is to get a coach or an accountability partner. If you’d like to discuss coaching, contact me. Otherwise, talk with some people who have your same desire to improve. Share this site with them. Start getting together at least once a week. Discuss how you’re each doing on adopting your new habits. Share your story in the comments.

Question: How have you been trained, or have trained yourself, in time management and personal productivity?